Friday, November 9, 2018

Journey to the center of the most '90s card set ever made

I'm still trying to organize the giant box of random cards I received from The Collector Chris quite awhile ago now.

It's filled with a lot of card sets I know and also some that I still have a fairly good handle on even though I may not have collected them back in the day.

I thought that was the case when I came to the 1994 Stadium Club cards. Then I found a card of someone named "Hilly Hathaway."

I stopped and stared. I glanced at his first name, making sure it wasn't "billy." No, that's "hilly," all right, printed in that ever-so-'90s take on a kidnapper ransom note that might appear on "America's Most Wanted."

In fact, I decided right there and then -- still trying to figure out who the heck Hilly Hathaway was -- that this was the most 1990s set ever made and I had just journeyed smack dab into the center of it.

Turning the card over, you can see -- among other things -- that Hilly is card No. 385 in the '94 Stadium Club set. This set is 720 cards so No. 385 isn't exactly at the center, but close enough. With all those mid-1990s graphics swirling around, it's tough to stick to accuracy. My vision is blurring as I write this. But we'll get to the card backs again.

For me, 1994 Stadium Club is, without a doubt, the most '90s of '90s sets. There's a lot to choose from when trying to characterize 1990s cards, from the Saved by the Bell sets of the early 1990s to the cold, calculating Matrix sets of the late '90s. But right at that center core is a set as '90s as Urge Overkill, Central Perk and Michael Jackson marrying Lisa Marie Presley. Don't tell me the most '90s set is 1995 Fleer, that coked-out montage could be an outcast in any decade.

No, 1994 Stadium Club was right at home in 1994. It was 1994.

And so were the dudes who appeared in the set that I had never heard of until viewing these cards over the last few days. In fact, as I pondered Hilly Hathaway's card, I momentarily wondered whether "What Is Love" by Haddaway ever played as he warmed up on the mound. That would be the most 1994 moment ever.

But enough pondering. Let's look up this Hilly character.

It turns out he pitched 13 whole major league games and the last one was 1993 so his career was over by the time anyone pulled a card of him out of '94 Stadium Club.

But, don't worry, there were other guys I had never known lurking in this set.

Kevin Higgins. Nope. Don't know him either. I see he made his major league debut on May 29, 1993. That notation is a key bonus of '94 Stadium Club.

Higgins played 71 games for the Padres in 1993 and batted .221. And apparently everyone said that's enough.

Matias Carrillo. No idea. But ask anyone when this card was made and they could place it within 1993-98 without knowing a thing about collecting. The early Marlins uniforms are a dead giveaway, and Carrillo played in 104 games for the Marlins in 1993 and 1994.

The fact that so many players were popping out of this set that I didn't know makes sense because this was right when I pulled away from the game and collecting. I was entering my trading card slumber even before the strike hit and would sleep away the rest of the '90s.

I'd never notice, nor remember, the Tim Mausers of the world.

By the way, what is it about 1994 that produced so many players with double vowels in their names?

Eddie Taubensee (two of them!)

Jeff Reboulet.

Tim Teufel.

1994 Stadium Club is filled with uniform designs I do not enjoy. Who ever though the blue softball tops and caps were a good idea for the Astros?

The photos, although still considered cutting edge at the time, look dark and are full of shadows on players' faces, as if the pictures were taken during the 1970s. The label-maker look of the last name also harks back to the '70s, or at least that's when I was using a label maker.

But the backs? There is no questions -- none at all -- that they were made in a mid-1990s factory, probably by the same place that fed espn2 its graphics back then.

This set is known for Stadium Club's drastic redesign in an attempt to appeal to the kids who everyone suddenly decided had "extreme" tastes. ("Gogurt is the yogurt you squeeze and slurp, grab and glurp."). Everyone in 1994-95 was Extreme. Check out the word "survivor" as "surVIVOR." Edgee.

The type is all akilter, flush left sometimes, flush right others, changing from line to line. Words are presented horizontally or vertically in a variety of fonts and sizes. The Topps Skills Rating System or, sorry, "the topps skills rating system," delivers arbitrary numbers for various abilities with no indication of how they arrived at the ratings or who was on the panel.

All of this is presented on a dark blue-and-black background which if you ask me is THE color combination of the mid-1990s.

It's a fascinating world, wandering around in the center of the most '90s set ever. So many questions.

Here's another:

This one has bothered since the mid-90s. Why is Eric Davis so far over to the .....................................right?

Where is the ball?

Before I received these cards from Chris, I had maybe 25-30 cards from '94 Stadium Club, mostly Dodgers. The others came out of repacks. I didn't care whether I had any more. The Jose Valentins and Archi Cianfraccos didn't interest me. Either they reminded me of the strike or my failed fantasy baseball teams or the awful apartment I was living in at the time or all those years of Braves and Yankees in the World Series.

Discovering guys like Hilly Hathaway makes me appreciate the set a little more, and the time period just a bit more. Because who knows what other discoveries lie within?

Does that mean I am looking to collect it?

No way.

Those card backs just make me think of Keith Olbermann in a leather jacket.


  1. Oh man yeah this is my favorite peak-90s set. DYMO labels came back in a big way then as part of the DIY grunge stuff (along with the torn paper thing) and I love everything about this in how it looks pretty good despite being a complete trainwreck of a design (as opposed to say 1995 Fleer or 1991 Donruss which both also scream 90s but aren't anywhere as close to as nice). I also love that it's over 700 cards (bring back huge sets please) and while I don't intend to ever chase it every card I get from it makes me smile from the nostalgia.

  2. '94 Stadium Club is very '90s in that I still can't figure out whether I like it or not.

  3. "My vision is blurring as I write this. "

    I agree. This set is a complete mess.

  4. People still clamor for a comprehensive BB card set but by the second or third series, it seemed like TSC of the 1990s mostly had the fringiest MLB players - you had this premium set of cards, but all these no-names pictured on a number of them.

  5. Because my custom-card-making eye is drawn to minor details...

    I wonder how many different kind of "paper tears" (i.e. the shape of that little bit of "colored paper") there are for the player's first name. I don't wonder enough to actually research it, but still I wonder...

  6. The mid-1990s were a dark period. Very dark.

  7. My First Stadium Club. I wanted to like them so bought a box. Not at the falling in love stage, I bought a second box because that would be enough to cement our relationship. Feeling taken advantage of, I broke up with it. Reading your post helms me to recall what was good about our time together. And for a moment, I thought there was something I could cling to, but it's over.

  8. I clicked expecting that Fleer set, but this is also the most 90s set of all. The decade in which no designers knew the phrase "maybe we're overthinking this."

  9. There were a lot of sets in those flat rate boxes that brought back some good collecting memories. This was not one of them. I'm glad you were able to determine the most 90s card of all 90s cards though.

  10. If I still have an Urge Overkill 45 rpm record, is that a surVIVOR or a win win WIN ?

    That Carillo card basically seems to defy gravity. Maybe it could be one of those "Mystery Hill" tourist trap places. I would like to reverse engineer the photograph and along with Baseball Reference or somewhere, somehow figure out if he tripped over First Base in that game. I bet he did.

  11. Chris sent me a small stack of these as well. Not sure if they're my least favorite SC set... but it's close.